All Woman

When horses and tramcars ruled the roads

Centenarian Esmie Johnson recalls the peaceful days of Jamaica

BY DONNA HUSSEY-WHYTE Observer staff reporter husseyd@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, June 26, 2014    

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AS her mind travelled back in time, 100-year-old Esmie Fredericka Johnson recalled years ago in Jamaica when everyone travelled by tramcars and 'horses and saddles'.

"There were no cars. There were horse and saddle, and tramcars," Johnson told the Jamaica Observer during an interview at her Mona, St Andrew, home last week.

"Tramcars used to run on tracks and one track ended up in Liguanea, and we had one from Papine and it went to downtown. They ran on tracks in the road powered by electricity that used to be generated in the Gorge. So this is in the 1912 up to the 1920s. So we had electrical tramcars that used to travel on different routes," the centenarian recalled.

"I remember one driver, big man, and when you see him running he would say 'Johnnie Walker still going strong' because his name was Johnnie. And everybody would go with Johnnie Walker's tramcar because... he could drive good; fast, but careful; no accident," Johnson recalled.

History has it that the first motor car to have been driven in Jamaica -- a four-cylinder 'New Orleans' made in Twickenham, England --happened in 1903 in Black River, St Elizabeth. It was owned and operated by HW Griffiths of Hodge's Pen. It was years later before one graced the streets of Kingston, Jamaica's capital city.

Johnson said while aeroplanes existed, they hardly every passed over Jamaica, and when one did it would create much excitement with everyone's eyes turned towards the skies accompanied by shouts of "It's a plane going on, it's a plane going on!"

But despite the increased technology and the modern modes of transport that exist today, Johnson said that as a youngster she would not trade places with one of today's children.

"Jamaican people never bad like dem ol' hooligan now," she declared. "We never used to even sleep; we used to run up and down. Houses never had any burglar bars. We used to just love one another. So my days were not like how it is now. It was peaceful. You never hear about crime. You could walk about freely at nights and everybody loved one another. You could sleep with your doors open and you are all right. I wouldn't want to exchange it for now," the centenarian said.

Johnson, who celebrated her 100th birthday on June 6, said boys and girls could be friends without any fuss, and men would have to ask parents for a woman's hand in marriage before any form of involvement.

"Boys and girls used to be friends and there was no mix-up mix-up and nastiness. No!" she said. "My husband had to ask permission for my hand in marriage. But things change, man, things change. I want to bring you back to those days. Good old days. I welcome them back again."

The preferred dance then was the waltz and just about everyone knew how to do it.

"You used to have a lot of the waltz dance back then. That is what we learn. In our days we never dance dem rub-up, rub-up dance like now. We danced waltz," she said with a smile.

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